Someone asked me yesterday, "Do I enjoy teaching this age?" (I teach Kindergarten). Which really threw me for a loop, as those kinds of questions often do. Whenever I am asked the question "Do I enjoy teaching?" or the more broad "Do I enjoy parenting?" or the more specific "Do I enjoy having a big family?": I feel like it's a test. Like I am completing a final exam, on which my life depends. And we all know when writing exams or when answering those kinds of questions there is always a right or a wrong answer.
I wish people would just ask me if I have ever tried licking my elbow. For the record, I have tried. And no, I cannot.
In general, people don't really want to know the realanswer to tough questions about life. They want to hear you say theright answer. That "yes," you love "altruistically laying your life on the altar of self-sacrifice and that you get a secret thrilling satisfaction from doing everything the above questions entail, including but not limited to refereeing disputes and laminating holiday crafts of every variety, to wiping snotty noses (this one is geared to the middle and last questions) and changing bums, to acting as a chauffeur and making household ground rules only to have them broken the minute they're been issued."
I quite like all that. Really. I do.
But if that was the real reason I decided to be a teacher, or a parent or a mother, I'd have to be truthful.
There'd be more mental health days from work than just the current one I was on today before I wrote this very post. Because quite honestly, I don't really love all those latter parts of my job, as it concerns both being a parent or a teacher. Or as it concerns being a mother, to up the ante even more. The above answer is more about the details that complicate my love of this life that I am living. Not so much about my true motive for why I live that Life.
We all know that details sometimes weigh us down. The records I am required to keep as a teacher, the list making. The unrecognized acts of service: like wiping up bloody noses and picking freshly chewed up wads of gum off the classroom floor or dispensing of crumpled up food containers that didn't quite make it in the right waste receptacle. The constant, continual reminders, to follow the classroom rules. The late nights and early mornings. The duty days with no regular pee breaks.
Acts of service that sometimes go unnoticed. It's often in the details.
Details like rushing home so as to throw supper on before rushing back to pick up kids from after school programs, then making sure everyone has practiced their piano, done their homework and hung up their coat, even if that means receiving the Meanest Mommy Award in the process.
Details like sifting through backpacks and lunchboxes so as to ensure everyone has their 'favorites' and enough of these goodies to last at least three feedings throughout the day; along with all papers signed and ready to go, mittens, hats, boots, coats. Oh! And pajamas, teddy bears, slippers and housecoats packed, if it happens to be Winter Carnival week. Details like filling medicine vials for one while slathering Vapo-Rub on another, while lying down with another who is just a wee bit scared of being alone. Details like acting as the presiding judge over such important cases as "who really did touch that donut first" or "who let one go during bedtime story."
Details like listening to your children's hearts and navigating through the clutter of their everyday lives. To search out and know, I mean really know the issues that matter to them. The issues that are important in understanding another human being, as precious as a child. Details that help shape a person into a good citizen, details that make or break a person's character. Details. But so important to the job.
Without such, there would be no job. The details could be defined in this way: all that essential stuff that makes a person into a teacher, a woman, a mother, a human being and a citizen: stuff the life manuals, textbooks and baby books never covered. You can't fault a book. They just forgot to include that life isn't really all in the details.
Sometimes life is more complicated than that. No biggie.
We human beings can forget that life is about caring for people, not the details of how or why or what. We humans can sometimes feel these expectations weighing down on us. Feeling pressure on us so much so that we think if we slack off in any aspect of our lives -- whether that be in our job, in our homes, in relationships, through unspoken expectations we have placed on ourselves or whatever -- that we are failing to live up to a certain standard.
Some people oddly, yet joyfully, align themselves as slackers. And I'll admit it. There is a certain freedom that comes in embracing imperfection and not letting that bother you. And for those who don't take the pressure off themselves, there can be enormous guilt from not living up to one's own expectations for themselves, whether those be for a job or a home. But for either/or: if a person CARES about what they do, it really doesn't matter how well they think they are doing. Or not. What matters is their concern about the matter.
Caring about something indicates your heart is in the right place. You cannot qualify care. You either have it, or you do not.
The thing is. We all want to do our best. Those who openly say they don't care, and those who inwardly beat themselves up because they do, we all care about what we do. We care, because we are human. We care about what we do because to not care would be to not be human. And caring is just a form of kindness. When we care, we show kindness. Whether that be showing care to one's students, co-workers or one's children. Care indicates kindness.
All of life is really about kindness.
The question then becomes: "Are you kind? Do you show others you care?"
I write a message to my Kindergarten students everyday to reinforce learning outcomes, and the latest area of teaching has been regarding the area of punctuation in writing. So this week, I introduced quotation marks. Every day, I write a new quotation at the end of my message, all in the hopes that the students will "get it." The punctuation, that is. I am such an intentional teacher, teaching quotation marks to Kindergartners. But I digress.
So this morning, I was finishing up my message, all while searching my mind for a quotation to put in the message. I began looking around the classroom, and the very last line of our collaboratively created classroom rules caught my eye: Show others you care. Which is to say, I wrote the following: "Show others you care," said Mrs. Gard. And as I was writing, I began to see that teaching quotations marks is not the lesson. The message was the lesson. "Show others you care."
Is this not all of life summed up in a line? Is it not the answer to those hardest of hard questions? Do I like teaching this age or that age? Do I like my job? Do I like parenting? Do I like mothering? Do I like the details that weigh me down in my various roles of Life? Do I always even like my own four sweet children?
Does the answer always have to be yes, that I like the details in order to prove that I love The Life? No. Do I even have to like everything I love? When I love the people who are affected by the details, who often create the messiness of the details. It is there that one finds the proof for the belief that all of life is essentially about love. And love is borne of care. And care is just another word for kindness.
The right answer to the hard questions about people is this: care about people. If we care, it takes care of the sordid details. Caring makes everyone and everything else in life worthwhile. And if there is one message in the universal classroom of Life that I would have my students learn, indeed my Flesh and Blood- my own four beautiful babies learn, it is this. That all of human relationships- both work-related and home-related boil down to this underlying principle: caring and kindness are what life is all about. And when we practice these two in tandem, it makes all the difference for everything else.